State Puts New Focus On Finding Jobs For Tennesseans With Disabilities | Nashville Public Radio

State Puts New Focus On Finding Jobs For Tennesseans With Disabilities

Dec 2, 2015

Gov. Bill Haslam's administration is hoping to help more people with intellectual and developmental disabilities find jobs.

It's part of a plan that officials say would move thousands off the state's waiting list for disability services. 

The state of Tennessee currently provides help to about 8,900 people with intellectual disabilities. These are people with handicaps that require some sort of ongoing therapy, such as behavioral services or help with routine tasks like bathing or dressing.

Darin Gordon, the head of TennCare, says many such people want to work. They just need help finding jobs.

So TennCare and several other state agencies, including the Department of Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities, have put together a proposal called Employment and Community First.

"If you think about it, it requires an intentionality of trying to connect the two," he said. "If it was easy, you wouldn't have all the programs that are needed to do that."

Gordon and other state officials argue people with disabilities could benefit from being integrated into the workplace. But helping them find jobs is only a small part of the proposal.

Their overall goal is to reduce the number of people with disabilities who can't get services because the state hasn't yet found the money to offer them. About 6,200 people are on the state's waiting list for disability services; perhaps as many as 10,000 more would qualify.

State officials blame a series of lawsuits for driving the cost of providing services up to more than $100,000 per person. Gordon says the court orders stemming from those suits required a "one-size-fits-all" approach.

But that litigation has mostly been resolved, allowing the state to better match the services it provides disabled people with their actual needs. 

Melanie Bull with the Tennessee Disability Coalition, an advocacy group, says it's thrilled with the proposal. Its members helped develop it.

"We're very enthusiastic about it," she said. "I think TennCare and DIDD just saw an opportunity."